Common Sense on the Galloway Village Creek Zoning Referendum

The voters of Springfield, Missouri will have an opportunity to vote on November 8, 2022 on whether or not to rezone the Galloway Creek Village property, located on South Lone Pine across from Sequiota Park. My purpose in writing this letter is to provide background information on referendums based on my 34 years’ experience as Springfield City Attorney, having retired in 2005.

The right to vote on rezoning is not a new issue, since Don Bush, former City Attorney for Springfield, in 1969 opined that zoning ordinances were subject to a vote of the electorate under the referendum provisions in the 1953 Springfield City Charter, which opinion was reaffirmed when I was City Attorney for Springfield in 1980. In addition, the voters were given an opportunity in 1994 to amend the City Charter by eliminating the right to refer or initiate rezoning proposals in the City Charter, which amendment was overwhelming rejected by seventy five percent of the voters.

Even though the right to refer zoning matters to the voters is not a new it has seldom been used, if at all, during its 69 years as a fixture of the Springfield City Charter. The basic fact is that referral of rezoning of property is about a rare as a hen’s tooth, although we will get to see this the first time with the vote on the Galloway Village Creek zoning. Springfield is still standing and enjoying prosperity and good economic growth, despite having this provision in its Charter for 69 years.

Opponents of the Galloway Creek Village referendum misunderstand the referendum, thinking that almost any ordinance can be referred to the voters. Not true, referrals to the voters are very limited. Referendums are limited to legislative matters. The vast majority the ordinances adopted by the city council are not legislative. For example, ordinances that that are administrative (like budgets or rate increases) or just plans for an area like around the Missouri State University or OTC are not subject to a referendum because these plans are generally not laws. In addition, the suggestion that somehow development of Missouri State or OTC will be hampered because of city zoning laws is a red herring because under Missouri case law the Missouri zoning law does not apply to the development of Missouri State or OTC. Time to put this red herring to bed.

In addition, to referendums being limited to ordinances that are legislative, there are significant hurdles like gathering signatures for a referendum.  No easy task. Just ask the Galloway Greenway Creek Neighborhood Association about the burden of collecting and submitting sufficient signatures for a referendum.  

Some citizens have used the example of a referendum on zoning as an excuse to argue for getting rid of the right of citizens to vote on zoning matters in the Springfield City Charter because it hinders economic growth. This doomsday argument is that this will destroy economic growth. More specifically their argument against the referendum goes like this. In a representative government, like Springfield, informed leaders will tell us whether or not a zoning proposal is good or bad and we ought to listen and follow in step. After all, in this case both the Planning and Zoning Commission and the City Council approved the Galloway Village Creek development and it has been endorsed by the Chamber of commerce as well ensconced community leaders. What more do we need?

This argument is upside down and ignores why the right of citizens to decide on the approval of ordinances is in the City Charter. According to Ballotpedia: … these devices were adopted principally to curb the rule of political party machines and to correct the abuses and inadequacies of inflexible legislatures by granting the people a means to overrule legislative action and to initiate popular votes on legislation.” The right of initiative and referendum goes back to our founding fathers.  Thomas Jefferson, included in Virginia constitution the right of initiative and referendum because he believed that: “citizens were capable of being leaders and that they should agree upon, and approve, changes to laws.” Missouri added the right of initiative and referendum to the Missouri constitution by the legislature referring this to the voters in 1907.  Under article I, section 1 of the Missouri constitution, all power is derived from the people. Under the Missouri Constitution the power of referendum has been delegated to the people.

Land disputes over rezoning are not uncommon. So, what happened in the Galloway Village Creek development? Seems like the Springfield City Council and the developer got crossways with the neighborhood.  The city leaders see the development differently, from the neighborhood, which happens quite often in zoning matters.  I believe all the parties are acting in good faith but they just see if differently.  This can happen when a city council approves a development that would change the character of an area and increase congestion and affect the quality of the neighborhood in the eyes of the neighborhood. In these cases, there is another avenue open to the underdog: referendums. This is what happened with the proposal to rezone the Galloway Creek Village property.

The referendum should be viewed as a reasonable way to settle these disputes. Its purpose is well described in a July 14, 2021 article by “Let the Voters Decide“ discussing “Settling land Disputes with Referendums“  – “Referendums allow citizens to take part in the political process beyond electing representatives. They allow the people to meaningfully and directly voice their opinions on particular matter that affect them directly. Through referendums, they can help prevent representative governments from favoring the needs of Special Interest Groups and hold them to making decisions that are truly in the best interest of the public.”

On November 8, 2022 the voters of Springfield will have an opportunity to participate in one of the great exercises of participatory democracy. You, the voters will decide if the Galloway Creek Village property will be rezoned. Be informed.

Please, exercise you right to vote on November 8, 2022.

Howard Wright © 2022

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